Inari Chapter 11: Cavernous Depths

 

When I open my eyes I hurt all over. The others are gathered around me with worried expressions and I notice not only me but my kimono is in a sorry state as well.

“That was my favorite kimono that mommy sent me…”

Akane: “We were so worried Mistress we thought we lost you for a moment there.”

Yuji: “I told you since you were all still alive you had nothing to worry about.

Akane: “Don’t give me that! You were just as worried as well!”

“Wait… Where is Satoshi?”

Saki hangs her head with tears in her eyes… Akane pats her on the back.

Akane: “He is still alive…But I don’t know. He used every bit of his hp to keep you alive, and blacked out shortly after you. Even after casting healing spells on you both, you at least seemed to improve, but he however did not.”

As I sit up I realize just how sorry of a state my kimono really is in when Yuji quickly adverts his gaze and Akane pulls on it covering me back up. Holding the front of it closed with my hands I move over to Satoshi who is lying on the ground a few feet away.

He usually has nice tanned skin, but his complexion now is very pale… I agree with the others that he is still alive, but you can’t even tell if he is breathing or not… Placing my hand on his bare chest I can barely even tell his heart is beating.

“Damnit Satoshi… I can’t yell at you for screwing up if you are in this sorry of a state…”

Saki: “Mistress…”

“I know… We can only hope he can hold on long enough for some of our magic to return.”

We spend the next while casting healing spells on him as our magic recovers but there doesn’t appear to be any change. I decide to hold my spells to build up a stronger healing spell, but have Saki keep casting the lesser ones on him.

Akane: “It has been quite a while since the attack, should we start preparing to rest here for the night?”

“Well I am afraid to move Satoshi in his state, and I hate to not make any more progress, but at the moment I don’t think we have a choice. We won’t even be able to hold this point without him… Maybe we should start thinking about retreating once we can get Satoshi stabilized.”

Akane: “Actually…About that…”

When I look over to the tunnel I instead just find a solid wall of armor.

Yuji: “After you collapsed one of the Oni crashed into the heap, and everything started tumbling down. We tried to dig it back out, but at the moment we were more worried about Satoshi and you.”

“Can’t move forward, can’t move back… I guess we can only hope a more powerful healing spell will work and we can get Satoshi back on his feet.”

Saki stays up with Satoshi, but they tell me to get a few more hours of sleep. I try to argue saying I have slept enough but Saki with tears in her eyes says.

Saki: “If we are going to have any hope of bring Satoshi back, you have to build of you magic, so Mistress, please, I am begging you rest and recover your magic…”

After that I decide to comply… I thought it would be hard to go back to sleep after just waking up, but I am so drained still that sleep finds me almost immediately.

When I wake back up I find we are very lucky, because Satoshi is still out, Saki is asleep with her head on his chest, and Akane and Yuji are both asleep in each other’s arms as well… If something would have attacked we would have been wiped out…

[Menu] is almost worthless this far from the dungeon, but it is enough to at least tell the time. I have slept almost the entire night. I don’t know when the others fell asleep so I am afraid to wake them. I should be able to watch things for a while so they can at least get a little sleep.

I move back over to Satoshi, and not only is he pale but also he is rather cool to the touch as well. If Saki’s spells were just enough to keep him alive, then when she fell asleep his situation deteriorated. I quickly cast the strongest healing spell I know.

After sleep my magic should recover quite quickly, but I still feel a bit uneasy holding the spell so long that I drop my magic into such a sorry state even after just waking up. It seemed to be enough though because color returns to Satoshi and he even opens his eyes.

He quickly starts to move but I hold him still holding my finger up to my lips. He notices Saki and begins to blush, but lays back down.

Satoshi: “How long was I out…?”

“All night.”

Satoshi: “And the others?”

“They will all be ok. At least for now, time till the next horde of Oni is only 8 to 10 hours away, and retreating is no longer an option.”

Satoshi glances over at the wall of armor.

Satoshi: “So what do we do?”

“Just rest…”

It’s a new day so I summon in the foxes again and notice something is different about them. Both are still snow white but now they both have a red streak running through the fur on opposing sides of their brows.

I look at the streak closely but it appears to be part of their fur. They have always maintained the same appearance when I summon them, but I guess yesterday was the first time they were ever killed. If they get more red fur every time they die, won’t they eventually be red foxes instead of white ones?

I guess that is a long way off though as the streak is barely more than a small line, so for now I guess it is just another unanswered question. Satoshi has appeared to have fallen back to sleep, but his complexion is back and you can see Saki rise and fall with each of his breaths, so I think he will be fine now.

I decide to give the others a few more hours of sleep as well keeping an eye on things along with Aoi and Midori. Surprisingly the first to wake up is Satoshi again, but this time he sits up completely holding Saki’s shoulders as he does.

It’s enough to wake her up causing her to burst out in tears wrapping her arms around him crying. That in turn is enough to wake Yuji who quickly jumps to his feet. That causes Akane to slide to the ground but even with the thud she never budges.

“That girl…”

Yuji: “Satoshi! You’re awake?”

Satoshi: “Yes our Mistress seen to it a few hours ago, but I was still quite exhausted, so I must have fell back asleep.”

Saki: “I am so sorry Satoshi! This is all my fault, if I did as I was told and retreated none of this would have happened.”

Satoshi: “You were just trying to be of help. I was the one that let the Oni through not only endangering you, but the Mistress as well…”

“I let you all act according to you own wishes, but if you want to continue your relationship with Saki, your duties must come first. If you were focused on the mission none of this would have happened.”

Satoshi raises Saki out of his lap and then quickly moves over to me bowing down.

Satoshi: “You are right Mistress. I promise I won’t make the same mistake again!”

“Fine, I will hold you to that promise. Now go apologize to Saki for nearly get yourself killed within the first 24 hours of your relationship. She hasn’t even gotten to ride you yet, that would have truly been the worst kind of tragic ending…”

Saki quickly covers her face with her hands blushing and Satoshi can’t even look Saki in the face now, and he is blushing as well. He weakly apologizes however and Saki quickly shakes her head back and forth.

“Now somebody wake Akane up… We can’t stay here all day!”

Yuji: “Mistress… What about your kimono?”

“Ah…Yes.” –I say while covering myself back up again while Yuji adverts his gaze again.-

If we were in the dungeon it wouldn’t have completely repaired by now, but enough to at least be functional, but this far from the dungeon that won’t work… This is my favorite kimono that mommy gave me, the one with the cute little foxes on it, so I can’t get rid of it. Even still I didn’t bring any change of clothes as it is not something I typically have to worry about.

Not only the kimono itself, but my chainmail is practically worthless now as well, and I am going to need it going forward. Retreating isn’t an option so I decide to try something… I mean in concept it’s the same thing, but I don’t know if anyone has ever tried an inanimate object before.

It seems to work however as casting a heal spell while focusing on my equipment causes it to meld back together, and before long not only my kimono but armor as well is completely repaired. Not only that but I receive a notice.

Dungeon Core #245 [Inari] has acquired the skill Elvish Crafting (Rank 1)

Elvish crafting… You mean to tell me all that elvish crafting amounts to, is casting heal on an item? But how can that be because they can start with zero material at all and make whatever they like, not only that, but rank 1 only covers wood and cloth, yet I repaired my chainmail as well. Now isn’t the time, but once we are safe back home maybe I should investigate this further…

“There that should work…”

Saki: “Mistress, how did you do that?”

“I’m your Mistress aren’t I? Surely I am capable of something as simple as that!”

Yuji: “I am inclined to agree, but you appeared to be surprised as well when it happened…”

“That’s neither here nor there. We are wasting time!”

Once we are finally able to get Akane awake we move out. When the Oni attacked 3 of the 4 tunnels had Oni pouring out of them. That means all three of them should lead to our destination, but at the moment surviving is more important.

If no Oni came through that one tunnel then maybe we can find a place to defend ourselves from the Oni during the next horde, and at least at nothing else they wouldn’t be able to hit us from two different directions.

Yuji: “Mistress, are you sure this is the path we should be on? We have been going for two hours now and have seen no signs of anything. Maybe all the tunnels are connected only this one is so far out of the way that the Oni took shorter routes.”

“That might be a possibility as well. If that is true then maybe even though it takes us a bit longer maybe we can skip the horde of Oni.”

However after another couple hours travel we discover that is not the case. On the other hand though what we do find is rather encouraging.

Saki: “Daylight!”

We climb out of the mouth of the cavern and have a look around… It was kind of a nook carved out of a large boulder. You can’t even really tell the opening is there unless you are right on top of it. We still seem to be in the plains, but other than north, south, east, and west we can’t tell where exactly we are.

Akane: “The forest should be that way.” –She says while pointing. – “So the question is what do we do now?”

“Well we at least we know we are no longer trapped, so all in all we should be able to return to the cavern with more confidence now. We still have a mission to accomplish after all.”

Yuji: “Couldn’t we return home for a few days and then try again…?”

“Yuji quit your whining…”

Yuji: “Yes Mistress…”

We return to the cavern making our way back to the intersection. If we continue on we should reach it just in time for the next wave of Oni. At least now though we can retreat back further instead of being pinned in.

Our estimate proves to be about right we make it back to where we started with a short amount of time before the Oni will arrive. We decide to wait it out resting a little bit and then once we hear the rumble we prepare.

“Remember this time see if we can tell which tunnel has what percentage of Oni coming through it.”

All: “Yes Mistress!”

This time the battle goes smoothly. We have to retreat back a few times, but we have all the room in the world. Not only that, but the assistance of the foxes from the get go make one hell of an advantage. Although I order Midori back as being on the front line causes it quite a bit of damage.

When the wave is complete Saki and I are not even hurting on magic. Aoi does look to be a bit drained though. After making our way through the corpses we now have to decide which path to take.

Yuji: “That one seemed to have the most come from it, so either it’s the closest or maybe it is just the biggest tunnel.”

“I think the distance will all be about the same, because all three groups hit at the same time. If one of the tunnels were longer it would take that group longer to reach us. So I would think that means the group size is based on the tunnel size.”

Yuji: “We should take the smallest then, and that would be that one.” –He says while pointing.-

Akane: “You’re full of it… That was the tunnel with the least amount.” –She says pointing at the other tunnel.-

“Honestly they looked about the same, so it shouldn’t matter I just think we should avoid the third one. It looked like half of the Oni came though that tunnel alone.

Yuji and Akane then start arguing which is actually smaller, and by the time it switching from a conversation about the tunnel to body parts Satoshi and Saki are both blushing, so I decide to leave it up to chance tossing a marked flat stone.

Akane: “Best two out of three?”

Yuji: “Sore loser!”

“We have wasted enough time! Just go!”

With that we then resume our trip through the cavern. The monsters in Shima are different in general I guess, because after a few more of them beastly dogs we encounter some giant spiders unlike anything I have heard of from normal dungeons, with body parts resembling several different types of creatures.

They prove less difficult then that snake was, but we are running into them far more frequently. It also could be the assistance of the foxes, because when we finally do encounter another one of the snakes this one was seemed far easier, or maybe it is just the fact we knew more what to expect from it the second time around.

These monsters don’t seem to have any remains lying about, so if they are required to eat they aren’t dragging the things back to their lairs. The spiders have a few Oni cocooned and hanging from the ceiling, but none appear to have been eaten on much.

“This is starting to look more and more like a dungeon, no matter how you look at it. I don’t see how it is possible to keep it secret from the elders though.”

Akane: “Well if it is a dungeon that means we can stop it.”

“With my xp consumption so high an end to the Oni at this point would be an end to us.”

Yuji: “In all the waves of Oni we have encountered though, not a single one is an Oni General, if it is a dungeon maybe there is more than one working together?”

“One dungeon covering the entire island nation of Shima does sound like quite the stretch, but after I seen those rooms full of items or that tunnel of cuirasses, I just don’t know anymore…”

Akane: “And that is to say one dungeon being able to hide from the elders should be impossible, but several?”

“Dungeon cores have only been around for about 1000 years, and with them all types of new creatures and monsters came into being. Who is to say this isn’t something new altogether?”

Saki: “Aren’t questions just like these ones the reason we are here to begin with?”

“I guess you are right. Well maybe we will find out when we reach the bottom, for now lets get some rest. The foxes and I will take first watch and everyone else can get some sleep.”

Satoshi: “But you were the first up today, maybe we could take watch, and let you get some sleep?”

“Well I would rather stay up a few more hours than sleep the rest of the night then go to sleep and then be woke up for a later watch.”

Satoshi: “Very well.”

After everyone lies down I decide to send a message back to the village.

(Everything still going alright?)

Chika: (Very well Mistress! I was a bit worried I didn’t hear from you last night, but I assumed since you sent the message earlier and we ended it on a bad note you just didn’t want to talk.)

(We actually did run in to quite the predicament, but it worked out in the end.)

Chika: (Did that mean you were forced to summon Aoi and Midori? We looked for them several times today but couldn’t find them anywhere.)

(Yes they are here with me. I really didn’t want to have to use them, but what’s done is done. How is my Takeshi doing?)

Chika: (He is still very busy, but I can’t say anymore. I can assure you what he is doing is by request of the villagers, so it is nothing you should concern yourself over.)

(So you and Akane keep saying… Tell him if he does anything that I might disapprove of that I will find out about, and he will pay for.)

Chika: (I will let him know…)

I sigh then sit there scratching Aoi and Midori behind the ears…

“You two were there, what is he up to?”

Aoi lets out a small chattering bark while Midori just rolls over so I can scratch its stomach…

The next two weeks pass pretty quickly we continue pushing into the caverns, but the monsters are proving quite problematic. They have started to prove to be more of the problem then the daily horde of Oni as at least the Oni we know what to expect.

We have found several more stashes of items, but with the cavern not having any side rooms they amount more to dead ends. Some of the items have been of good enough value some of the others have replaced some of their gear.

My monsters are gaining a large sum of xp every day, but as I am still bound by my consumption I have only gained a single level compared to their progression. Pretty soon the level difference might become great enough that they finally surpass me…

When speaking with Chika she has started to ask when we think we will return and as we don’t have a clue on how much larger this cavern is I just continue to tell her it looks like it will be a while. For some reason though she seems relieved. Takeshi better be behaving himself.

As for Satoshi and Saki they have proved to be quite disappointing. Now that they are in a relationship together you would think things would change between them but they haven’t seemed to change at all, but Akane and Yuji on the other hand.

They argue and bicker as much as they did a year ago when I first summoned them, but as soon as their mouths are closed they are back in each other’s arms. Much to my disappointment they have kept their bodily fluids to themselves. It isn’t like I don’t normally watch them anyway so why being away from the dungeon is so different I don’t know. Maybe if they would just pound it out they would quit being at each other’s throats so much.

We have encountered quite a few more of those snake monsters, but with everyone’s gain in levels and the assistance of the foxes they are not really even a threat. The beastly dogs also have also seemed to phase out with the addition of more of the spider monsters.

Even the spiders have begun to give way to larger Oni. These Oni are about the size of an Oni General however they only have a single eye. Their choices in weapons and means of attack are quite different as well.

When not running into dead ends of never ending spawning items, we have also encountered a few more exits to the cavern. You would think if this was indeed a dungeon then there wouldn’t be so many openings.

That also makes us wonder if we are even getting close to source of the Oni or not. The time in which the Oni horde appears seems to get a bit earlier with each passing day, but I don’t see how progressing hours in would only result in a few  minutes or so difference. Maybe we are missing something.

On the day that marks 2 month since daddy’s disappearance we obtain the first solid and encouraging bit of information.

After fighting a difficult battle we check the time, and it appears to only be a few more hours still the Oni horde comes through. We found a tunnel that is covered in spider webs from one of the giant spiders. If it led to the source the Oni horde would have destroyed it so it must lead to a dead end.

Most dead ends are due to a blockade of items, and they have been items that are replacing our current equipment so we decide not only can we possibly score some new gear, but also make sure the Oni only attack us from one direction, so we decide to take the tunnel.

Not long after that we begin to hear the rumble of the Oni horde.

Akane: “Wait that isn’t possible! It should still be at least a solid 2 more hours till they attack!”

“It doesn’t matter, we don’t know how much longer this tunnel goes back but at least down to that curve is plenty of room. We are still in good shape.”

Yuji: “Wait… the rumbling… It is coming from down the tunnel!”

“It can’t be, that web looked months old, if they could come down this tunnel surely it would have been long gone by now.”

Akane: “The sound… It isn’t quite the same.”

Satoshi: “You’re right… It’s more like an echo…”

“If they come at us from down the tunnel we should have enough room as long as we don’t get boxed in, so we should find out why it is echoing.”

We hurry along the path and quickly find the answer. The tunnel just stops… Not in a dead end but it opens up. There is a massive single cavern that looks like an entirely hollowed out mountain… The tunnel we are standing in is hundreds of feet in the air, and in the cavern you can see hundreds if not thousands of similar tunnels dotted all around the cavern.

There is something that is quite out of place however, down at the very bottom of the cavern surrounded in water is a castle… It looks tiny from here, but the entire horde of Oni are passing the bridge over the water easily fits on the bridge.

Yuji: “That castle must be the source of the Oni!”

Akane: “But if it will take the Oni two hours to get from that bridge up here to us how many tunnels are left before we can reach it.”

Yuji: “If they can get to us in two hours then we should be able to get there in the same amount!”

“I don’t think it works that way… I don’t know how the move so fast, but all these weeks we have been traveling 8 to 10 hours a day through these caverns, yet each day we get closer the Oni only arrive at best 15 minutes sooner each day. It is pretty close to noon now, so if that is their spawn time you keep cutting 10 to 15 minutes out we are still looking at 8 to 12 days.”

Yuji: “We could just climb down from here then!”

Satoshi: “You have to be kidding…Do you see that drop…?”

Yuji: “I don’t want to spend another 2 weeks in this hell hole.”

Akane: “You could jump. I would even give you a push if you like.”

“And who knows… Maybe after a few days we will come across one of them tunnels closer to the bottom that would be easier distance to climb from.”

We at least now have a destination so things are really starting to look up! Or at least I would like to say but after two more days of travel we start to encounter some giant birds that breathe fire… We manage to kill one of the two we encountered, but I lost Aoi and Midori again, we started to run low on magic, and we had to retreat.

Yuji: “Damnit! We are so close now!”

“I’m sorry Yuji, we just can’t push it like that. We can take some of these other tunnels and gather more xp to hopefully gain you 4 a couple more levels, otherwise we aren’t going to make it to that castle.”

Yuji: “What if we just find another one of those tunnels connecting to the castle and climb down?”

Akane: “If there are monsters in the cavern that are this strong, what do you think is going to be in that castle?”

Yuji: “Just the Oni right…?”

We all sigh.

“If only you were right.”

After more time passes I start to wonder what we are even doing here… Daddy has been missing for months now, and Mommy is no closer to finding him then she was when he disappeared… I have told Madam Erin countless times we are doing as she asks so send more help to find Daddy, but even though she says she is putting resources into it Daddy is still missing and we are still stuck in this place.

I think my monsters have surpassed my strength now. I think they have even passed Daddy’s monsters strength now. Maybe that is the secret behind Madam Erin’s plan. Maybe she knows exactly where Daddy is but she is just having us do this to gain enough strength to be able to save him.

I guess that is just delusions of wishful thinking though. If strength really was the problem the elders could save him instantly. Unless… What if it is another dungeon has him captive? If another dungeon has him the elders might be unable to act, but surely kidnapping a dungeon core has to violate some kind of rule or something.

Yuji: “Mistress?”

“What…? Oh sorry Yuji what were you saying? I was zoning out there.”

Yuji: “I said can I load up on some of this equipment, it would be pretty good for some of the girls back home.”

“We can’t afford to be weighted down like that.”

Yuji: “But I got that new spell after reaching level 30 yesterday remember?”

“Spell… Since when have you been able to cast spells?!”

Yuji: “Since level 25, remember it opened up a few shadow spells? Yesterday when I hit level 30 I learned [Shadow Pocket]

“I don’t have that spell… I guess it’s true. You are all leaving me behind. Maybe that’s why Daddy never worried about training himself. He knew Mommy and the others would leave him in the dust…”

Saki: “Don’t talk like that Mistress! You are plenty strong! Once we get out of here the Oni will no longer do anything for us so we will completely quit gaining levels, but you will slowly gain more xp everyday with you consumption. You just have to play the long game…”

“What if we get in trouble now though? I can’t protect you all anymore what if one of you loses your lives to protect mine, because I am so weak?”

Satoshi: “That is our purpose Mistress.”

“Yuji was right all along… I should of stayed behind and left it too you all.”

Akane hits Yuji’s shoulder. “Now look what you did!”

Yuji: “All I did was ask if I could use my spell…”

Satoshi: “Mistress… What about your father?”

“What about him? I was stupid to think I could do anything to help him! If he was in danger of course I wouldn’t be able to do anything.”

Satoshi: “Is that what you are going to tell your mother? That you gave up because you were scared and weak.”

Akane: “Satoshi!”

“No… He’s right… Isn’t that what you always say Saki. Inari isn’t going to help you unless you help yourself? Feeling sorry for myself isn’t going to get us anywhere.”

I stand up patting Satoshi on the shoulder.

“You might have to be careful Saki. Satoshi keeps acting all wise like that I might steal your boyfriend away.”

I then steel myself with new determination. I may not be as strong as the others anymore, but if I have to move forward!”

Yuji: “…So… About the gear?”

 

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